BIG U

BIG TEAM
New York, New York

Winning Project
$335M

BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) with One Architecture, Starr Whitehouse, James Lima Planning + Development, Project Projects, Green Shield Ecology, AEA Consulting, Level Agency for Infrastructure, Arcadis, and the Parsons School of Constructed Environments

The Big U is a protective system around Manhattan, driven by the needs and concerns of its communities. Stretching from West 57th street south to The Battery and up to East 42th street, the Big U protects 10 continuous miles of low-lying geography that comprise an incredibly dense, vibrant, and vulnerable urban area. The proposed system not only shields the city against floods and stormwater; it provides social and environmental benefits to the community, and an improved public realm.

The proposal consists of separate but coordinated plans for three contiguous regions of the waterfront and associated communities, regions dubbed compartments. Each compartment comprises a physically separate flood-protection zone, isolated from flooding in the other zones, but each equally a field for integrated social and community planning. The compartments work in concert to protect and enhance the city, but each compartment’s proposal is designed to stand on its own. Each compartment was designed in close consultation with the associated communities and many local, municipal, state and federal stakeholders; each has a benefit-cost ratio greater than one; and each is flexible, easily phasable, and can be integrated with in-progress developments along the City’s waterfront.

Bridging Berm provides robust vertical protection for the Lower East Side from future storm surge and rising sea levels. The Berm also offers pleasant, accessible routes into the park, with many  unprogrammed spots for resting, socializing, and enjoying views of the park and river. Both berms and bridges are wide and planted with a diverse selection of salt tolerant trees, shrubs and perennials, providing a resilient urban habitat. 

Between the Manhattan Bridge and Montgomery Street, deployable walls are attached to the underside of the FDR Drive, ready to flip down to prepare for flood events. Decorated by neighborhood artists, the panels when not in use create an inviting ceiling above the East River Esplanade. At night, lighting integrated into the panels transforms a currently menacing area into a safe destination. Panels can also be flipped down to protect from the elements, creating a seasonal market during the winter.

The east and west boundaries of the Battery were key inlets during Hurricane Sandy, allowing floodwaters to rush into Lower Manhattan and shut down the nation’s – and the world’s – premier financial district. Enhancing the public realm while protecting the Financial District and critical transportation infrastructure beyond, the Battery Berm weaves an elevated path through the park. Along this berm, a series of upland knolls form unique landscapes where people farm, sunbathe, eat and engage with world class gardens.

In place of the existing Coast Guard building, the plan envisions a new building programmed as a maritime museum or environmental education facility, whose form is derived from the flood protection at the water-facing ground floor. This signature building features a “Reverse Aquarium” which enables visitors to observe tidal variations and sea level rise while providing a flood barrier.

Download a PDF of the team’s final competition boards here.

View a PDF of the team’s full proposal here.

Watch a video about the BIG U project here.

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